The Colombo Thread

These from wiki:

Henry Steel Olcott

Olcott was born on 2 August 1832 in Orange, New Jersey, the oldest of six children, to Presbyterian businessman Henry Wyckoff Olcott and Emily Steele Olcott. As a child, Olcott lived on his father’s New Jersey farm.

During his teens he attended first the College of the City of New York and later Columbia University, where he joined the St. Anthony Hall fraternity, a milieu of well-known people. In 1851 his father’s business failed and he had to leave the university.

While living in Amherst, Ohio, Olcott was introduced to spiritualism by relatives who had formed a spiritualist circle after seeing the Fox sisters on tour in Cleveland. During this period, Olcott became interested in studies of “psychology, hypnotism, psychometry, and mesmerism” In 1853, after returning to New York, Olcott became a founding member of the New York Conference of Spiritualists. He also published letters and articles on spiritualist topics in the Spiritual Telegraph under the pseudonym “Amherst.”

From 1858 to 1860 Olcott was the agricultural correspondent for the New York Tribune and the Mark Lane Express, but occasionally submitted articles on other subjects. He was present for John Brown’s execution.

He also published a genealogy of his family extending back to Thomas Olcott, one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut, in 1636.

In 1860 Olcott married Mary Epplee Morgan, daughter of the rector of Trinity parish, New Rochelle, New York. They had four children, two of whom died in infancy.

He served in the US Army during the American Civil War and afterward was admitted as the Special Commissioner of the War Department in New York. He was later promoted to the rank of colonel and transferred to the Department of the Navy in Washington, DC. He was well respected, and in 1865, following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, assisted in the investigation of the assassination.

In 1868 he became a lawyer specializing in insurance, revenue, and fraud.

In 1874 he became aware of the séances of the Eddy Brothers of Chittenden, Vermont. His interest aroused, Olcott wrote an article for the New York Sun, in which he investigated Eddy Farms. His article was popular enough that other papers, such as the New York Daily Graphic, republished it. His 1874 publication People from the Other World began with his early articles concerning the Spiritualist movement.

Also in 1874, Olcott met Helena Blavatsky while both were visiting the Eddy farm. His foundational interest in the Spiritualist movement and his budding relationship with Blavatsky helped foster his development of spiritual philosophy.

Olcott continued to act as a lawyer during the first few years of the establishment of the Theosophical Society, in addition to being a financial supporter of the new religious movement. In early 1875 Olcott was asked by prominent Spiritualists to investigate an accusation of fraud against the mediums Jenny and Nelson Holmes, who had claimed to materialize the famous “spirit control” Katie King (Doyle 1926: volume 1, 269–277).

In 1880 Helena Blavatsky and Olcott became the first Westerners to receive the refuges and precepts, the ceremony by which one traditionally becomes a Buddhist; thus Blavatsky was the first Western woman to do so. Olcott once described his adult faith as “pure, primitive Buddhism,” but his was a unique sort of Buddhism.

Theosophical Society

From 1874 on, Olcott’s spiritual growth and development with Blavatsky and other spiritual leaders would lead to the founding of the Theosophical Society. In 1875, Olcott, Blavatsky, and others, notably William Quan Judge, formed the Theosophical Society in New York City, USA. Olcott financially supported the earliest years of the Theosophical Society and was acting president while Blavatsky served as the Society’s Secretary.

In December 1878, they left New York in order to move the headquarters of the Society to India. They arrived at Bombay on February 16, 1879. Olcott set out to experience the native country of his spiritual leader, the Buddha. The headquarters of the Society were established at Adyar, Chennai as the Theosophical Society Adyar, starting also the Adyar Library and Research Centre within the headquarters.

While in India, Olcott strove to receive the translations of sacred oriental texts which were becoming available as a result of western researches. His intent was to avoid the Westernized interpretations often encountered in America, and to discover the pure message of texts from the Buddhist, Hindu, and Zoroastrian religions, in order to properly educate Westerners.

Olcott’s research and translation efforts put him in dialogue with early, ostensibly secular anthropologists and scholars of religion. He corresponded extensively with Max Müller, asking questions related to his interest in Hinduism and Buddhism and sharing discoveries from his travels in South Asia. He also personally met both Müller and Edward Burnett Tylor at least once at the University of Oxford.

Olcott’s main religious interest was Buddhism, and he is commonly known for his work in Sri Lanka. After a two-year correspondence with Sri Piyaratana Tissa Mahanayake Thero, he and Blavatsky arrived in the then capital Colombo on May 16, 1880. Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steele Olcott took Five Precepts at the Wijayananda Viharaya located at Weliwatta in Galle on May 19, 1880. On that day Olcott and Blavatsky were formally acknowledged as Buddhists, although Olcott noted that they had previously declared themselves Buddhists, while still living in America.

During his time in Sri Lanka Olcott strove to revive Buddhism within the region, while compiling the tenets of Buddhism for the education of Westerners. It was during this period that he wrote the Buddhist Catechism (1881), which is still used today.

The Theosophical Society built several Buddhist schools in Ceylon, most notably Ananda College in 1886, Dharmaraja College Kandy in 1887, Maliyadeva College Kurunegala in 1888, Siddhartha Kumara Maha Vidyalaya (First named as”Buddhist boy’s School”) Gampaha in 1891, Mahinda College Galle in 1892, Nalanda College, Colombo in 1925, Musaeus Girls College in Colombo and Dharmasoka College in Ambalangoda. Olcott also acted as an adviser

to the committee appointed to design a Buddhist flag in 1885. The Buddhist flag designed with the assistance of Olcott was later adopted as a symbol by the World Fellowship of Buddhists and as the universal flag of all Buddhist traditions.

Helena Blavatsky eventually went to live in London, where she died in 1891, but Olcott stayed in India and pursued the work of the Theosophical Society there. Olcott’s role in the Theosophical Society would still be as president, but the induction of Annie Besant sparked a new era of the movement. Upon his death, the Theosophical Society elected her to take over as president and leader of the movement.

Buddhist catechism

Olcott’s “Buddhist Catechism”, composed in 1881, is one of his most enduring contributions to the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and remains in use there today. The text outlines what Olcott saw to be the basic doctrines of Buddhism, including the life of the Buddha, the message of the Dharma, the role of the Sangha. The text also treats how the Buddha’s message correlates with contemporary society. Olcott was considered by South Asians and others as a Buddhist revivalist.

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Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera

Early life and education

Born on 8 November 1899 at Malamulla, Panadura as George Pieris Malalasekera, his father was a well-known Ayurvedic (native medicine) physician, Ayur. Dr. M. S. Pieris Malalasekera.

Malalasekera was educated at St. John’s College Panadura, (now the St. John’s College National School). It was a leading school in the English medium in Panadura under the head master Cyril Jansz, a reputed educationist of the colonial era. After receiving his education in that school from 1907–17, he joined the Ceylon Medical College, Colombo to qualify as a doctor with a Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery (LMS). However, the death of his father cut short his medical studies compelling him to give up his hopes of becoming a medical doctor. By following a correspondence course from England, he gained a BA from the University of London External System in 1919 with a first division. His subjects were English, Latin, Greek and French. He was the youngest candidate to obtain the Bachelor of Arts degree in the British Empire in that year with a first class.

In 1923, he proceeded to join the University of London and obtained the two post-graduate degrees of a MA and a PhD concurrently in 1925, in oriental languages majoring in Pali from the London School of Oriental Studies. Malalasekera would later gain a DLitt in 1938, his thesis was ‘Pali Literature in Sri Lanka’ from the University of London.

Teaching career

Coming under the influence of Buddhist renaissance of Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala, he changed his foreign names of George and Pieris to those of Gunapala Piyasena and henceforth came to be known as G. P. (Gunapala Piyasena) Malalasekera. After gaining his BA he took to teaching at Ananda College, Colombo as an assistant teacher, then under the principal P. de S. Kularatne. Both of them were the architects of the Sinhalese national costume. In quick succession Malalasekera rose up the ranks to be the Vice Principal and acting Principal of Ananda College. Thereafter he left for London for his graduate studies. On his return to the motherland in 1926, he was appointed Principal of newly formed Nalanda College Colombo. The student assembly hall of Nalanda College Colombo is named Malalasekara Theatre in memory of him.

Academic career

In 1927, he succeeded Ven. Suriyagoda as lecturer in the then University College, Colombo to lecture in English on Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit for the University of London degree examinations. When the University of Ceylon was founded in 1942, he became the Professor of Pali and Buddhist studies. Serving as the Head of the Department of Pali, he went on to serve as the Dean of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Ceylon. His research was on Buddhism and Buddhist Civilization was extensive and he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism. His contribution by way of research papers and publications to the Pali Text Society of London under the patronage of scholars like Rhys David and Miss I. B. Horner. From 1927 twice he was elected the Joint Secretary of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. Thrice he was the Vice-President and functioned as its President from 1939–1957. On his departure from the University of Ceylon, he was appointed Professor Emeritus.

During his tenure of office, he saw to it that the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress constructed a new building for its headquarters at Bullers Road (now Bauddhaloka Mawatha). He took a delight in the activities of the Viharamahadevi Girls’ Home, Biyagama and was responsible for the establishment of boys’ homes at Panadura and Ja-Ela. During his presidency of the Buddhist Congress for 25 years, he addressed 20 of its annual sessions. His most significant publication is the Malalasekara Sinhala-English Dictionary. It was first published in 1948 and is currently up to its fifth edition which was released in 2014.  Of equal importance is the Dictionary of Pali Proper names. An ardent member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Ceylon. He represented Ceylon at several parleys abroad notably, Conference on Living Religions (1924 – London), Conference on World Religious (1936 – London), Association of Occidental (Western) and Oriental Philosophers (Hawaii – 1949), Association of Indian Philosophers – India, meeting of the Pakistani Philosophers (1953 – Karachi), and the Seminar on Religions for Peace, (San Francisco, USA, 1965). So numerous were the essays, write-ups, literary contributions he made and radio talks delivered over Buddhist, religious and cultural matters and Social service assignments. He was the founder president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists inaugurated within the hallowed precincts of the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy in 1950 at the suggestion of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress.

He was president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists from 1950 to 1958 as well as the Ceylon Arts Society;

Diplomatic career

Malalasekera was appointed the first Ceylon’s Ambassador to the USSR in 1957 by Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike when he established diplomatic relations with socialist countries such as Russia, China, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia. In 1959, he was appointed concurrently first Ambassador for Ceylon to Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania. He served till 1961.

Subsequently, he functioned as the Ceylon’s High Commissioner to Canada and Ceylon’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York from 1961 to 1963. There he served as chairman, Security Council Member, Fact Finding Mission to Saigon and also in the Committee on Information from North Non-self Governing Territories. Finally, he was the Ceylon’s High Commissioner to the UK from 1963 to 1967.

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My wife exchanges letters with his daughter. Her mum was her pen pal, and the wife carries on the tradition after Joan’s death. He was principle of Ananda College formed by Olcott.